- Associated Press - Friday, November 10, 2017

PHOENIX (AP) - The publisher of Arizona’s largest newspaper on Friday joined a growing list of women who say a top Republican state lawmaker subjected them to inappropriate sexual comments or actions, allegations that led to his suspension from the chairmanship of a powerful committee.

Arizona Republic Publisher Mi-Ai Parrish wrote in a column online that state Rep. Don Shooter told her last year during a meeting in his office that he had done everything on his “bucket list,” except for “those Asian twins in Mexico.” Parrish is Asian-American.

Other lawmakers, entertainment figures, businesspeople and media leaders have been accused of sexual harassment and other misconduct in the wake of allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. Lawmakers facing such complaints in Colorado and Minnesota also were removed or suspended from their posts as heads of legislative committees this week.

In Arizona, Shooter would not comment about Parrish’s column but has denied other allegations revealed this week.

Republican House Speaker J.D. Mesnard suspended Shooter from heading the appropriations committee pending the results of an investigation. Though the Arizona Legislature doesn’t return until January, committees Shooter sits on are meeting.

“Until the investigations have run their course, it’s just not practical for him to be involved in that capacity,” Mesnard said, adding he hoped they would be completed by January.

The speaker also said that because of the number and nature of the allegations, a “bipartisan sexual harassment investigative team” he appointed will hire an outside attorney.

Shooter is already the subject of an investigation launched by the House this week after a lawmaker accused him of repeatedly making unwanted advances.

Shooter denied the allegations from Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita and accused her of pursuing an affair with a House staffer. Several other women - lawmakers, lobbyists and Parrish - have come forward with similar accusations since Ugenti-Rita gave a television interview that aired Tuesday, including allegations of sexually tinged comments or unwanted touching.

Shooter issued a statement earlier this week saying he requested an investigation, and “therefore I am unable to comment further except to provide my full support and cooperation.” He has since referred questions to his attorney, who hasn’t elaborated.

There also have been allegations that other, unnamed male lawmakers harassed women, and Mesnard acknowledged that “rumors are flying fast and furious” about who is possibly involved. He promised investigations of any formal complaints.

Mesnard appointed two House attorneys to lead an investigation into the claims. They will be joined by several staffers from the Democratic and Republican caucuses.

Parrish wrote that she initially brushed off Shooter’s comment, chalking it up as “just another remark in a long, long list of offensive, obnoxious, ignorant, destructive things said to me and others by people with some power or sway.”

But she said she now realizes “it wasn’t OK. And it wasn’t OK for me to be OK with it. For me to put up with it. To laugh it off, to excuse it, to use it as a cocktail-party tale.”

Parrish serves as president and publisher of the Arizona Republic and previously held the same jobs at The Kansas City Star and The Idaho Statesman. She has twice served as a Pulitzer Prize juror, is a longtime member of the Asian American Journalists Association and serves on several boards, including of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Arizona State University.

Shooter wielded considerable power as head of the House Appropriations Committee and is known around the Capitol as a politically incorrect jokester who threw booze-laden parties in his office on the last day of legislative sessions.

The Yuma lawmaker was elected to the Senate in 2010 and led that chamber’s appropriations committee before moving to the House in 2016.

Minority Democrats and the state’s most powerful business group, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry, have called for him to resign.

The investigation could lead to a formal ethics probe by the House, which could expel him with a two-thirds vote for “disorderly behavior.”

Asked if the Shooter allegations indicate a culture problem in the chamber, Mesnard said it is a broader issue.

“I would submit to you that we have a culture problem in the House, in the state and in the country,” he said. “This isn’t just unique to Arizona. This is happening all over the place, whether you’re talking Hollywood or newsroom studios.

“Clearly we have probably tolerated things in the past that we shouldn’t have and people are standing up, and rightly so,” Mesnard said.

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